The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof has been on a roll lately with his columns about the right — and the wrong — way for charitable organizations to compel supporters to join them in the fight to meet their mission.
Earlier this week he argued, as he had in 2007, that the public is more compelled to get involved if they see themselves as saving one person — one cute kid, one mother who has persevered — versus the millions who may find themselves in the same situation.
"There’s growing evidence that jumping up and down about millions of lives at stake can even be counterproductive. A number of studies have found that we are much more willing to donate to one needy person than to several. In one experiment, researchers solicited donations for a $300,000 fund that in one version would save the life of one child, and in another the lives of eight children. People contributed more when the fund would save only one life."
People want to feel good. They don't want to think about the enormity of a problem that they can never truly solve. They want to write a check and believe they have had an impact.
Quite a few well-meaning people who see themselves as experts in issues marketing did not take too kindly to Kristof's comments. They'll have to get over themselves.
Yesterday, Kristof praised the marketing efforts of Scott Harrison, the founder of charity:water, an organization that has raised $10 million in the past three years from 50,000 individual donors and has provided clean water to one million people in Asia and Africa.
Why does Kristof think Harrison been successful?
- He can assure new donors that every sent they send will make it to the field. He can do this due to the support of 500 of his "most committed" supporters, who pay to cover all administrative costs.
- Donors can see the impact of their work. They can name wells and get the GPS coordinates to identify their wells on Google Maps.
- Finally, charity:water has, creatively, embraced social media.